A podcast for new atheists, lifetime atheists, ex-evangelicals, truth-seekers, and free-thinkers
Is there a literal Satan? The Bible is a little vague, not so much in whether or not he exists, but more who or what he is.
“MY NT talks about the devil A LOT.” Yeah, it talks about him, but when do you ever SEE him? When does the antagonist show up in the narrative as anything corporeal as opposed to conceptual. The answer there is, simply put, never.
There ARE far more references (more like inferences) to a literal devil or Satan in the NT.
Satan in the NT is more shadowy and is framed in several ways:
The one who motivates bad behavior
The source of clear and obvious mental illness (demon possession, various types of misbehavior)
The tempter in the Desert
The dragon in Revelation
“Satan” is given reign over the earth during the great tribulation – clear references to social and economic upheaval
One thing most of these references have in common is that even though some of these references SOUND like they point to individual entities (Satan and his demons), there are a scant few times that an actual, literal devil is ever part of the narrative. And even in those instances, the references are more indicative of how individuals dealt with situations than with a single, central entity pulling the strings. We see a clear allegorical accounting of a wager between God and the Devil in Job, and Satan is alleged to have tempted Jesus in the desert after a weeks-long fast in the desert heat. Think about that for a minute. Take all the time you need.
Also, there is NO instance in any Biblical narrative wherein there is more than one witness to these manifestations: the writer. The writer assumes the role of the observer in all instances that directly involve “the devil.” This is most notable in the story of Jesus' temptation. There are only two characters, and the story is not written in first person. In other words, it's not an eyewitness account of ANYTHING. That fact makes it NECESSARY that the story be allegorical, not factual. Jesus didn't come home and tell his disciples about this. If he had, that's how it would have been framed. That story – and that's what it is, a story – was inserted into the narrative as a means of demonstrating Jesus' sense of purpose and his confidence in who he was. That's it. It wasn't a literal account of an actual event and by all exegetical accounts, was never intended to be read that way. In fact...
“Until John Milton created the character of Satan for his Paradise Lost, the different attributes of Satan were usually ascribed to different entities. The angel who rebelled in Heaven was not the same as the ruler in Hell. The ruler of Hell was often seen as a sort of jailer who never fell from grace. The tempting serpent of Genesis was just a serpent. Milton combined the different parts of the character to show his fall from near-divine beauty and grace to his eventual skulking role as a jealous tempter. He was so successful in his characterization of Satan as a romantic hero who "would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven" that his version of Satan has displaced all others.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil_in_Christianity
Since fear is a major tool of Evangelical faith, its doctrine takes this concept to all kinds of ridiculous levels and applies it wherever doing so will give them leverage. Nearly all evangelical doctrine about Satan is extra-biblical and Satan is the explanation for every issue, problem, conflict, disappointment, and tragedy we experience in life.
It's the devil that causes interpersonal issues. Disagree with someone? That's the devil talking! Rebuke them!
It's the devil that causes financial setbacks.
It's the devil who causes illness and disease.
It's the devil who causes doubt about your faith and neglect your spiritual life.
The devil is responsible when the church HVAC breaks or the van going to the youth rally breaks down en route. It's Satan making sure you don't get there to hear the Gospel or have the chance to rededicate your life to Jesus for the eighth time this week.
The devil wants to destroy you (seeking whom he may devour)
The devil target backsliders and the unsaved and causes things like car crashes and drowning accidents.
The devil is the motivation to drink and drive.
The devil makes you want to have premarital sex.
Everything that gratifies the flesh is “of the devil.”
Addiction is of the devil.
All things pop culture are of the devil from soap operas to celebrity gossip
Music that isn't Christian is of the devil
Secular movies are of the devil
Makeup is of the devil
Emotions like pride, jealousy, and lust are of the devil
One of my 11th grade English teachers was a Catholic deacon and he was the first Christian I met who did not believe in a literal Satan. This got the cogs turning in my head but in the midst of the Satanic panic the message kind of got lost in the shuffle for a lot of years. But it was always in there. Still, it got me wondering: what if all of the above had more to do with me than the devil?
So many things are blamed on demon possession from backsliding to epilepsy to personality disorders and other mental illnesses.
If you have a mental illness or think you might, you do not have demons. You aren't being satanically influenced. Your issues have one of two main origins: either they are experiential (PTSD) or chemical (Bipolar disorder) in nature. Regardless of its origin, mental illness cannot be prayed away and the “demons” won't leave you alone until to seek and accept competent SECULAR help. Episode 25 goes into this subject in depth and I encourage you to give it a listen when we're done here today.
Satan is HUGE business in Christianity
“Binding and loosing”
Some people have built entire evangelistic ministries on Satanic fakery like Mike Warnke and Bob Larson
The Peters Brothers and backward masking (also multiple copycats like Joe Viera and Gary Greenwald) You can ward off the power of Satan by sending money to televangelists. Kenneth Copeland and Robert Tilton are among the biggest offenders but they are in magnificent company.
What does believing in a literal Satan actually accomplish? For starters it exonerates the individual of blame for their own actions. Since we're so busy decreasing so Christ can influence and our lives are being lived from without and not within, it stands to reason that there would also be external forces acting through us when we sin. Satan and demons become the scapegoats for all our bad behavior and all we need to do is repent and acknowledge that WE allowed these things to happen, not as assertions of our will, but as the result of lacking in faith. A lack of faith gives Satan a window into our lives, thoughts, and behaviors and we are then motivated to act according to HIS will, and not the will of Yahweh. The bible doesn't back this up ANYWHERE, even when it could.
Romans 7:14-20 (NIV) 14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. c For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
At no point does Paul suggest Satanic influence, but simply the presence of sin that is taught to be in everyone from birth, long before anyone has the chance to be satanically influenced. There is also a contradiction here to the notion of Christ's atonement. Most pentecostal pastors will tell you that sin cannot and does not reside in the “hearts” of believers because “the blood washes our sins away (1 Jn. 1:7).” and “he who the son sets free is free indeed (Jn. 8:36).” Here, Paul is saying that weeds can crop up in this perfect, unspoiled garden that is the blood-washed soul of the believer and sin CAN take over. This is likely where some evangelical denominations get the idea that salvation is provisional, not permanent.
To the average evangelical, habitually sinful behavior in a Christian must be the result of satanic influence or demonic oppression. This “spirit of sin” is what is making them do things that are considered to be sinful from the innocuous like skipping church to damnably sinful acts like fornication. So much for free will. And the lines between the two are so blurred that both terms have come to have the same basic meaning over time.
Being taught to believe in a literal Satan who has the power to have influence over the things we do leads to other problems, most of which revolve around excusing the individual from personal responsibility when they commit actions that are deemed sinful or worse. Some attempt to cite satanic and demonic influence as means of escaping consequence from various crimes. Richard Ramirez and Shaun Sellers come quickly to mind and there are many others, mostly less high-profile.
It really isn't surprising coming from a religion that externalizes every experience, thought, and decision that make up our experience of life and how we live it. Either we are letting Christ live through us or we are supplicating to and being controlled by Satan. If we adhere to evangelical doctrine, It has nothing to do with us. These decisions and behaviors come from somewhere else.
*The only entity in this entire universe who has any influence over the choices you make, the things you do, or the things you say is you. There is no external evil force that can make you sick, take your job away, or orchestrate any kind of personal loss or calamity. When you start understanding this, you start holding yourself responsible. Personal responsibility is something that few people out there really want to embrace, and that has nothing at all to do with religion. It's a people thing. Rational thought steers us away from it, religion keeps us shackled to it.
Don't look for a scapegoat to lay your problems on. It doesn't work when you lay them at the foot of the cross and it doesn't work by confessing things like “the devil made me do it.” When you get a good taste of what personal accountability feels like, you start understanding that in any case over which you have control, YOU determine how things are going to be. The outcome won't be decided through prayer. It won't be decided through reading the bible. It won't be decided by how faithfully you attend church. It will be decided by you determining to be the kind of person you want to be, making mistakes, learning from them, and growing as an individual.
Don't go on living shackled either to a deity who claims he can save you or an evil force that wants to destroy you. Those shackles exist only in your mind. Stop deferring to Satan when you make bad choices, stop blaming external evil forces for the problems that exist in your life, start taking responsibility for yourself and how you live. Deal with things outside your immediate control rationally and in a way that facilitates change. The devil isn't doing it or making you do it. And understanding that will get you one step closer to getting and staying Unbound.